How Does a Soup Kitchen Make Money?

Money—the Key to Success

A soup kitchen is not just a charity—it is a lifeline to the growing number of homeless people who have no other place to go. Whether operated by neighborhood churches or citywide organizations, soup kitchens are affected by rising costs and economic downturns in the same ways as other non-profits. Soup kitchens generally depend on volunteer labor to operate but require money to equip the kitchen, rent the hall, and buy what food is not provided by food banks and corporate contributors. Most facilities have at least one paid staff member who is responsible for managing and staffing the facility and, often, completing corporate reports and tax forms required by the state and federal governments from non-profit groups. This director is often tasked with finding money to keep the lights on and heat the building as well as to pay her own salary. Ideally, there is a board of directors or some group to help with policy and operating decisions as well as help recruit volunteers but in many small parishes and towns, only a few people do it all.

Raising Bucks

Organizations use all sorts of strategies to raise money within the community. From setting cans out for contributions to fund drives and benefits, the most successful non-profit groups are constantly active in the community, drawing new volunteers as well as financial support from service, religious and fraternal groups. Some begin community traditions—the first Christmas luminarias were marketed by a non-profit group. Some sell mission-related items like cookbooks or bean soup mix to fund parts of their programs. Each non-profit board or soup kitchen director also searches state and government grant programs and learns to apply for this funding that is usually targeted at specific purposes and populations. Fund drives provide the basis for capital expenditures like buildings and kitchen equipment.

Attracting Philanthropy

As government grants become scarcer, most non-profits work on attracting philanthropy from individuals or foundations. For centuries, wealthy individuals have trusted their money to organizations that will administer and disburse money to deserving programs. From the local community chest to the Ford Foundation, these groups receive millions of requests for money each year and each must make decisions based on its own charter and stated objectives. Often philanthropy will be “in-kind,” such as food donation pledges by local grocers or kitchen equipment from a restaurant-supply chain. Most soup kitchens, like other non-profits that maintain a continuous program of service, use corporate or private foundation funding to provide basic operating costs like salaries or food. The most successful programs tend to attract more philanthropy and, in large cities, coalitions of these organizations present a higher profile for philanthropic groups. These coalitions can provide support for less well-funded programs, benefiting not only the smaller organizations but also allowing a larger population to be served by the participating soup kitchens.